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Which Sample Chapters Should You Send to Agents?

Categories: Agents, Brian Klems' The Writer's Dig, Dealing with Editors, How to Publish a Book, Get Published, Query Letters, Questions & Quandaries Blog, What's New Tags: query letters, questions and quandaries, sample chapters.

Q: When agents ask for sample chapters, which chapters should I include? I feel that my strongest chapters fall in the middle—is it OK if I send those? —Davey K.

You wouldn’t start reading a novel in the middle, would you? Seems silly to ask an agent to do so.

Your goal with the agent (just as with your future bookstore customer) is to hook him into your story with Page 1, so always send the first few chapters of your novel. If those aren’t some of the strongest in your manuscript, then the tough truth is that you shouldn’t be querying yet. Instead, you should be editing, rewriting and reworking until they are. You want the agent to read them and say, “Oh man, this is dynamite. I wonder what happens next? I’m going to request the entire manuscript and find out!”

Keep in mind that that rule applies specifically to fiction. With nonfiction you have a little more flexibility. Often chapters from nonfiction books can stand alone (which is why magazines and newspapers regularly publish excerpts from them as articles), so it’s not essential, from a story standpoint, to send sequential chapters.

Some people think you should still send the first chapter, but you can handpick after that. In fact, it may be advantageous to send your first chapter and then one from the middle and one from the end. This would help give the agent a clearer picture of what your nonfiction book is about and how you plan to present it to readers.

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7 Responses to Which Sample Chapters Should You Send to Agents?

  1. JohnA says:

    Thanks very much for that. Yes, it certainly does help.

    I am actually querying agents, but I guess the same would apply.

    Best regards,

    John

  2. JohnA says:

    I should have added that, by short, I mean around two-and-a-half double-spaced pages; less than 800 words.

  3. JohnA says:

    The normal UK agents’ requirements include the first three chapters – though occasionally, a word or page count.

    I have a short prologue – it needs to be there; I’ve already looked at including it in the first chapter, but that would create too long a pause, almost a hiatus, between that part of the chapter and the next. Using chapter count, would agents expect me to count the prologue as one of, or in addition to, the three chapters?

    Thanks in advance for your advice.

    • While all editors likely have a different take on this, I would read it as “Send your first three chapters plus your prologue.” Better to err on that side then be turned down because you didn’t send enough.

      Hope this helps,
      Brian
      Online Editor

  4. adriennedewolfe says:

    I agree: the strength of the first 3 chapters is absolutely essential for whetting the appetite of a literary agent or an acquisitions editor at a publishing house. As a writer, if you can’t interest an editor on page 1, you’re not going to hold the attention of a reader. When my fiction writing students ask me what’s more important, the first 3 chapters or the synopsis (one of the selling tools in a proposal), I advise them to weight both equally. Not all agents/editors start by reading the first 3 chapters of a fiction proposal. So the synopsis has to be carefully crafted, too.

    Adrienne deWolfe
    http://WritingNovelsThatSell.com
    Book Writing Coach
    Award-Winning Author

  5. dlock says:

    I am writing a series of short stories, Lighthouse Adventures for Children / Middle Grade – 9 – 12 years old.
    Each is approximately 3,000 words – the first story is the “Riddle of the Great Seal’” about tweve-year old, Chloe and ten-year old, Kendall, and their adventures during summer break exploring caves near Penn’s Landing in Pennslyvania. Chloe discovers a link to her family that leads back to the King of England, and Kendall finds a friend…. Pirates, secret documents, and gold….
    The second is about the girls’ adventures in Ireland, and a 4,000 year old golden necklace found in a skip – dumpster… Plus, Ravens and Crown Jewels at the Tower of London… I am working on the third story, “Ghosts of Fort Mifflin,” during colonial times and modern day – William Penn landing in Philadelphia, the seige of Fort Mifflin….

  6. pacanime says:

    I agree with the idea that your first chapter should be the best, or at least one of your best. However, when you write a set of short stories, where each story is a piece within itself, then I think you would have some leeway. I think episodic fiction would be a hit with more people. Same character, different short stories, all in one book. I dislike the 500 plus page novel. Usually too slow.

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